K-12 Education Should Take a Lesson from Colleges
College often provides the first opportunity for students to direct their own education
November 17, 2011
Yes, a college education is certainly "worth it" to the many students for whom college is a way out of cyclical poverty or geographic isolation. Community colleges often offer the first step on this journey--and are nimble and affordable--and therefore welcoming to a diverse population. The value of college as a way to access new opportunities cannot be underestimated.
Exacerbating the ways in which personal circumstances create the need for the opportunities provided by college, many of our high schools hinder student opportunities by clinging to a design developed for a factory-era population, making them less than ideal for college and career readiness in the 21st century. Pursuing a college education often provides the first opportunity for students to direct their own education, select courses that are meaningful to their future career interests, and work with teachers and fellow students as colleagues.
The inherent value of learning aside, the current reality is that a high school education leaves many young Americans unemployable and unprepared to meet future challenges. Students graduate without the communication, collaboration, and analysis skills that will help them be successful. To succeed in the antiquated structure of many public schools, students have to shut off their technology, separate what they are learning into the often arbitrary silos of discrete courses, and succeed at reproducing answers obtained through rote learning. These strategies are especially detrimental in the sciences, where mastery occurs through hands-on experimentation and problem solving. All too often, college is the first time that students have the opportunity to learn in this way.
We need to work to transform K-12 education so that the experience offers students opportunities to work in collaborative teams, use real-world data and experiences, and learn how to obtain, assemble, and analyze information. Students who are provided with a better foundation for college success will find ways to make that college education worth even more than it is now. To make the college experience even more valuable, we need to help students "learn how to learn" earlier in their education. Students who enter secondary education with the skills to communicate, collaborate, discern, and prioritize will achieve far more in college, be better informed when making decisions about careers and majors, and would understand the value of asking good questions.